Zodiac (1982)   12 comments

I gave the historical background for this one already in my last post on Death Satellite. Keep in mind that game was first advertised in Your Computer in June, and this game was first advertised in September. While several months is not absurd for writing a 1982-era adventure game, the fast turnaround does mean this one might be more a cash-grab than the last.

Your goal is to “solve the problem of the Astrological Adventure” which is terribly vague, but I have a guess it just means you have to make it to whatever room is designated as The End. (CASA Adventure Archive claims something about six treasures, but I think that’s about an entirely different game also called Zodiac.)

The start, as shown above, made me think it was an Arctic Adventure lost-in-the-wild type situation, but in addition to ice-related antics the theme falls into having a sequence of rooms (with ones in between) named after the Zodiac. This leads nearly to abstraction-as-environment, with places like

THE HOUSE OF GEMINI
THE TWINS ARE HIDING SOMETHING

which I suppose you get to visualize any way you like. In a way, this is simply embracing the purity of the crossword in the crossword-vs-narrative battle. Adventure game entirely as challenge.

And wurf, it is unfortunate it has challenge, because there is no walkthrough, hint sheet, etc. I made a decent stab, as you’ll see, but I eventually got stuck. One thing that helped a bit to start was being able to find a chink in the parser. When the game says

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

it means the words being used aren’t in the game’s vocabulary (both verb and noun). If either verb or noun is recognized, the game says

YOU CAN’T

unless the action goes through. This fouled up my usual verb-testing strategy at first, where I’d go through each potential verb, like PUSH, PULL, etc. and apply them to a random object in the game. Here, if you type PULL TORCH, the game gives a YOU CAN’T even though PULL isn’t even a recognized word. The right way to test verbs is to simply type them with no object at all.

As shown, software-artifact-as-puzzlebox as opposed to any kind of narrative.

This yielded me a list of:

CUT, DIG, READ, DRINK, EAT, KILL, LIGHT, RUB, UNLOCK, WAVE, WEAR

Things were smooth up to what is the first puzzle (*), at Taurus. I had gathered an ICE PICK, a RED FISH, a KNIFE, a TORCH, and an URN (which I left behind because of a four-item inventory limit and the fact the urn smashes if you drop it).

At least I had company; a 1983 review published in Home Computing Weekly #24 writes:

One of the most difficult is how to get past the bull in the House of Taurus – a problem which I wrestled with for a long time, along with a friend who has the same program.

I should have looked at the text here more carefully, this had a hint! I was heavily stuck here and thought, perhaps, I’d have to just throw in the towel already and make a post, but I decided to pop the program open in a text editor to see if I could glean anything (machine code, not BASIC, so not 100% readable unfortunately).

There wasn’t much plaintext (I guess they did some encryption for contest purposes) I found more verbs:

GIVE, MELT, WRESTLE, LEAVE

I’m slightly sheepish I didn’t have GIVE on my list on verbs to check, but come to think of it, that’s not been a common word for the two-word parser (lots of DROP standing in for GIVE).

Seeing WRESTLE made me remember when I had to wrestle an octopus in Haunt. (The reviewer wrestled with the problem a long time, ha.)

Unfortunately there wasn’t too much more to go past that. I found a magic ring stuck in ice where MELT ICE worked, as per the newly-found verbs, and I met the Gemini twins I tagged earlier and gave them a fish; they traded me a key.

More a matter of “try all the verbs” than “thinking”.

There was a slightly classical maze hiding an axe…

…but other than that all I had left to fiddle with was a sleeping dragon.

I may end up having to call the game quits here, unfortunately; I’ll still give it a few more swings given I’m already past the “break open the actual code to look for clues” point.

I will say I can RUB the magic ring I found in the ice (the game tells me NOTHING HAPPENS in all circumstances) and any verb/object combo I’ve thrown at the dragon has been met with I CAN’T. I also haven’t been able to get anywhere with DIG in any room. Surely there’s a break somewhere?

(*) Almost the first puzzle. Entering the House of Aries requires going up the glacier, and I didn’t know until about my 5th iteration that the ice pick was required; otherwise I was holding it so it got used automatically without the game telling me. Solving a puzzle by default, essentially. This has the interesting side effect that since the maze has an exit that loops you to the start of the game, if you’ve dropped the ice pick in the interim (say, using it to map a room the maze) your game gets softlocked since you can’t go back up the glacier to return to the maze.

Posted December 30, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “Zodiac (1982)

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  1. I didn’t input that particular CASA synopsis and will remove it as, like you suspected, it’s the plot of the later similarly named Tansoft game, also for the Oric, as seen in the inlay at https://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=zodiac-alt

    The inlay for the A&F game, on Mocagh, is another generic “Adventure II” inlay similar to the one you posted in your write-up of Death Satellite. https://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=zodiac-alt3

    Some contemporary references actually for A&F’s Zodiac…

    Acorn User #9 (April 1983) [about the two A&F adventures] “The other game is Zodiac – a pure fantasy. Players explore the houses of the zodiac in search of treasure, encountering characters whose attributes correspond to their sign. This time there are no flaws and some of the clues are very subtle, providing a real challenge and some unexpected twists.”

    Micro Marketing [a reseller] advert, Home Computing Weekly magazine #6 (April 1983) “You’re on a frozen glacier. The Ice giant attacks you. You survive. A giant confront your path. The knife will kill it. Can you find it? What’s inside the Houses of the Zodiac – Aries and Virgo are but two. Can you find the magic potion, will you ever reach the House of Immortality – the only safe place, or is it?”

    • Knife works on dragon, axe works on giant, although I had to wrangle parser woes. You can’t do WITH KNIFE like the Scott Adams prompt, which I actually tried once, you just type KNIFE.

  2. Just realised that I mistyped that synopsis (in the comment awaiting moderation), it should read: “A giant dragon confronts your path. The knife will kill it. Can you find it?”

    Which, I guess, gives a clue about the dragon?

  3. I would take a shot at CURE CANCER in the appropriate room.

  4. I’ll obviously post about this, but so far, it’s been:

    kill the dragon with the knife (you have to type KILL DRAGON, then KNIFE)
    CUT DRAGON to get some dragon steaks
    kill an ice giant with an axe
    feed a hungry lion with the dragon steaks
    dig in an old hut
    get some earth in a silver box
    … and then go here

    IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INLAND FROZEN SEA. IN THE DISTANCE YOU CAN SEE THE SHORELINE. A VICIOUS WALRUS SUDDENLY APPEARS AND RIPS YOU TO SHREDS!

    • Does that make this the first game to include dragon meat of some kind? Or one of two? Because I know Dungeon Master includes them.
      Also, that last line. If there’s ever an adventure game quotes out of context, that deserves to be there.

  5. The thing with wrestling the bull reminds me of that one Labor of Hercules.

  6. Pingback: Zodiac: Not Bottomless | Renga in Blue

  7. Surely that fish was a herring.

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